Quentin Calamity: Beyond the Storm - Part Three
Charlene the plushie Hissi was right when she told Quentin Calamity and Captain O’Brien that they would know when they reached the Asparagus Woods. They were some way out of Plushieville—not far, but far enough that it was lost along the bend of the trail—when a dark green mass of asparagus, just as tall and sturdy as any tree either of them had ever laid eyes upon, came into view. “Would ya look at that,” mumbled O’Brien, pushing back his cap and giving a long low whistle. Quentin glanced down at the Tyrannian Kougra.
“Were you expecting something different?” he asked.
“Well, no—I guess not,” O’Brien said, clenching his teeth and scratching his chin in the way which it was his custom to do. “But there’s something about seeing a forest with asparagus stalks instead of trees that just sort of makes you a little impressed.”
The young Gelert’s ears drew out. “Truth be told,” he said. “It just makes me hungry.”
“Maybe we can find some asparagus and yogurt in there for ya, m’lad.”
They drew closer to the strange forest, with the long, thick vegetables standing like still, green sentries all about them. Quentin put one paw to a stalk when they came close enough, feeling it. It was asparagus, all right; there was no mistaking it. Beside him, Captain O’Brien leaned toward the asparagus and took a bite. He chewed it slowly before swallowing it and saying to his companion, “It’s better boiled, but this isn’t quite so bad.”
They wandered about in the shade of the asparagus, taking in the sights and smells of the Asparagus Woods—which were, admittedly, mostly asparagus and little else. At length, they found a well trodden path among the stalks, which seemed to have been worn into the ground by many, many hooves. The young Gelert knelt beside it, examining it carefully. “I’d say that this is from the Ixi,” he said at last as he touched one spotted paw to the ground and felt it. “It seems to wide to have been made by wild petpets.”
O’Brien nodded. “I’d wager you’re right, m’lad,” he said. “They must do a lot of trotting through here, those Ixi must, to leave a path clear as this.”
“I wonder how many there are?” said Quentin as they followed the trail further into the asparagus. “It must be a fairly large number of them, but Charlene didn’t say...”
“Hope they’re a reasonable lot,” O’Brien muttered. “Else wise, what are we planning to do when we find them?”
A shy smile appeared on the spotted Gelert’s mouth and, chagrined, he said, “I hadn’t actually thought that far.”
They were deep into the Asparagus Woods by that time. Somewhere near by they heard the trickle of a stream, and it wasn’t long after that before they came upon a creek of borovan. O’Brien looked down at it, amusement playing across his features. “M’lad, this is surely the best thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “We have to find out where this borovan is coming from!”
“Perhaps later,” Quentin said, crossing the stream. “First we must find the Ixi raiders.”
“But the borovan!” persisted O’Brien, following his younger companion. “A river of borovan, just running right through the middle of the woods! It’s downright bizarre, m’lad, if I do say so myself. And I do say so, because that’s exactly what I’m saying!”
“You find that odd?” Quentin asked, glancing back at O’Brien. “We’re in a forest of giant asparagus stalks and the borovan stream strikes you as odd?”
“Well,” said O’Brien as they left the stream behind them, steaming as the delicious borovan rushed through the trees, possibly toward a borovan reservoir, or some kind of ocean of borovan. “The presence of something strange doesn’t make other odd things any more normal, m’lad.”
“Oh, I believe quite to the contrary,” Quentin said. “Perhaps we should simply agree to disagree on the matter, then?”
A breeze blew through the serene little wood, bringing with it the smell of fresh asparagus in a heavy cloud and rustling Quentin and O’Brien’s fur and clothing. Before them, through the mass of asparagus, a number of hulking blue shapes became visible in the dim forest light. Quentin motioned for O’Brien to tread quietly as they continued on, each step careful and silent. The spotted Gelert’s eyes widened greatly as they closed in on the great blue shapes and found them to be enormous chokato fruits, the size of houses. The pair almost couldn’t believe what they were seeing, except there was no mistaking that blue and brown pattern for anything else.
“Well, take my sanity and call me Thade,” mumbled O’Brien, leaning forward. “Look at those chokato fruits! If they aren’t huts, I’ll eat my ship.”
Quentin squinted at the anomalous fruits, and noticed that chunks the size of doors had been removed. Within it appeared to have been hollowed out, from what he could tell. “You’re right,” he said. “This must be where those Ixi live—“
“Look!” said O’Brien, grabbing Quentin Calamity’s arm and pointing. The chokato huts were arranged in a circle. The young Gelert bent sideways slightly, to look into the center of the settlement, where a small fire was going. He could see the shadow of someone moving around near it, but they were behind one of the large, round huts and he could not get a good idea of what they might look like. Quentin frowned at the Kougra sea captain questioningly. “Look, here he comes again,” whispered O’Brien, pointing once more.
As Quentin looked at the space between the huts, he saw some orange-brown thing pass there, but before he could make out quite what it was it had stepped out of sight once again. Carefully, Quentin inched closer to get a better look and, apprehensively, Captain O’Brien followed. They reached the nearest hut and slide around its side, holding their breath for fear of making even a slight sound. Quentin edged carefully along the chokato fruit, one hand touching it, on the look out for the creature he had seen before. As soon as it came into view, he let out his breath all at once, and—for a moment—forgot how to take more breath into his lungs.
It was as nothing he had ever before laid his eyes on. Certainly there could be no mistaking the brute before him as anything other than an Ixi—but therein lay the problem. He had never seen an Ixi that looked anything like this one. Indeed, he had never seen any Neopet quite like this and, if his reaction were an indication, neither had O’Brien. Its fur wasn’t quite brown and it wasn’t quite orange, and its limbs were longer and much more powerful in appearance than Quentin had ever seen. Oh, and it had an extra set of limbs. That was also something Quentin had never seen. The upper portion of the Ixi was as of a biped, while the lower portion went on four legs. Just looking at this strange arrangement made Quentin feel a little dizzy with confusion. The Ixi was turned away from them, carrying a bowl in its arms and flicking its stubby tail back and forth.
O’Brien tugged at Quentin’s sleeve and motioned with his head that they should get far away from there, but the Gelert only furrowed his brow and shook his head. “No,” he whispered harshly to his companion. “We haven’t done what we came here to do yet.”
The savage Ixi’s ear twitched and he raised his head up slightly. Eyes widening, the pair stiffened. “Henry?” asked the Ixi, turning toward them. “Is that you, Henry? I have a bowl of asparagus yogurt for yo—huh?” He paused mid-sentence, seeing them, and blinked slowly. “You’re not Henry. Neither of you are, as a matter of fact.”
“N-no, we’re not,” said Quentin, cautiously creeping forward a few steps.
The Ixi looked slightly stunned, as though he were completely caught off-guard by this revelation. Finally he managed to speak. “Hey!” he said, furrowing his orange-brown brow. “What do you think you’re trying to pull? You’re not Henry! What did you do with Henry?”
“W-we didn’t do anything with Henry,” said O’Brien. “We’ve never even met Henry!”
Another Ixi, built in the same bizarre way but with yellow-ish fur, trotted into the clearing between the huts, looking confused. “Did someone call me?” asked the second Ixi.
The first Ixi’s ears perked up and he turned happily toward the newcomer. “Henry!” he exclaimed. “You’re alright!”
Henry the Ixi furrowed his brow. “Yeah,” he said, hesitantly. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
The first Ixi held out his bowl happily. “I have asparagus yogurt!” he exclaimed, wagging his tail. “It’s for you!”
Henry smiled. “Aw, Isaac, that’s so nice of you,” he said, taking the bowl. “Thank you.”
O’Brien stuck out his tongue to Quentin. “Asparagus yogurt,” he muttered. “Blech.”
Henry glanced at the Kougra ship captain. “Who are you?” he asked, and then turned his eyes on Quentin. “And who are you?” He looked back to the other Ixi. “Hey, Isaac, who are these guys?”
Isaac shrugged. “I’m not sure,” he said. “They were just lurking around Kristie and Teddy’s hut over there.”
Clearing his throat, Quentin steeled himself and began. “My name is Quentin Calamity,” he said. “This is my good friend, Captain Derrick O’Brien.”
“What’s he captain of?” asked Henry.
“What ship?” asked Isaac.
Quentin sighed. “Look, is that really important?” he asked, his spotted ears drawing back. “We’ve come from Plushieville to stop you from terrorizing their residents!”
“Yeah!” said O’Brien, puffing out his chest. “You good for nothing meanies!”
Isaac blinked. “Plushieville?” he said. He turned to Henry. “They think we were terrorizing Plushieville!”
Henry gave a harsh, guffawing laugh. “We weren’t terrorizing it!” he said. “If anything, we were trying to help it!”
Quentin and O’Brien exchanged a baffled glance. “What do you mean?” asked the young Gelert.
Isaac leaned down so that he was face to face with Quentin Calamity. “Tell me, kid,” he said, sizing Quentin up. “Did anything about Plushieville strike you as kind of off?”
“Well,” said the Gelert, frowning. “Everything was made of cotton fabric, but aside from that...”
“Didn’t they seem rather happy to you?”
“Well, yeah, but—“
“It’s not a natural happiness, if that’s what you think,” Henry said. “No, those plushie Neopets are under a spell.”
Quentin’s mouth hung open slightly. “A spell?” he asked.
The Ixi nodded and Isaac said, “It’s a spell placed on them to control them. We’ve been trying to drive out the caster, but they attack us when we get close. We’re not sure where to look for him, but we’re sure he’s there.”
“Who?” asked O’Brien. “Who would do something like that?”
The Ixi raiders’ expressions were stern as Isaac said, “The Malevolent Sentient Plushie Poogle.”
To be continued...